George T. Morgan designed
Silver Dollar, which was issued every year from 1878 to
1904 and then again in 1921. Hundreds of millions of Morgan
Silver Dollars were saved in bags of 1,000 each in bank
vaults because the federal government created artificial demand
for them to satisfy the Western silver interests. Some were
melted in the 1918, but large quantities remained in bank
vaults and were later bought by investors and collectors.
Because many millions of Morgan
Silver Dollars exist today in the hands of the public,
Silver Dollar has become the most widely collected coin
of its era.
In the late 1870’s a
group of silver mine owners convinced Senator William Allison
(Republican from Iowa) and Representative Richard Bland (Democrat
from Missouri) to support a proposal for a new silver dollar.
After much negotiation and intense lobbying by the silver
industry, Bland and Allison introduced a bill to resume silver
coinage, which had been stopped earlier. Despite the veto
of President Rutherford B. Hayes, the Bland-Allison Act became
law in February, 1878. It required that the Treasury buy a
minimum of two million dollars a month of domestic silver
to be coined into dollars. It also gave the silver dollar
legal tender status. These became the dollars designed by
George T. Morgan. The act attempted to keep silver at artificially
high levels. Large quantities of Morgan Dollars were minted,
but they did not circulate well and were kept in Treasury
storage vaults, which accounts for their availability today
in mint state grades. In 1904 production was halted because
the supply of bullion was depleted. In 1918 the Pittman Act
provided for the return of the Morgan dollar. It made its
final appearance in 1921.
When he applied to the Mint
for the position of Assistant Engraver, Morgan wrote explaining
his previous experiences: “I am familiar with the engraving
of coin dies, having for several years, assisted Messrs. J.S.
& A.B. Wyon. I think I may say that I have a good knowledge
of Design & Modeling. I served an apprenticeship to the
Die Sinking at Birmingham. From Birmingham School of Art I
successfully competed for a Scholarship at South Kensington…
during my Studentship I obtained Medals & Prizes for Models
of Heads from Life, Figures from Life & Antique Heads
from Photographs and Flowers from nature. I believe it is
not usual for an Engraver to have a practical knowledge of
Bronzing. Fortunately I have knowledge of this art and could
in a short time so instruct an apt scholar that he would be
able to successfully bronze a medal.” Morgan’s
design for the dollar shows a close head of Liberty in profile
facing left. She wears a headband inscribed LIBERTY. In her
hair are cotton, corn, wheat, and tobacco. She wears a modified
Phrygian cap and is surrounded with the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM,
thirteen stars (seven left and six right), and the date. The
reverse shows an eagle with wings raised looking left. In
its talons are arrows and olive branch, symbols of preparedness
and peace. A wreath is below and the motto IN GOD WE TRUST
is above. Except for the eagle’s wing tips, UNITED STATES
OF AMERICA and ONE DOLLAR circumscribe the design. The mintmark,
if present, is below the wreath and above the denomination.
The only complaint with George
T. Morgan’s design for the new dollar was that Liberty
was too heavy. For his model, Morgan used Anna Williams, a
school teacher from Philadelphia. Charles Barber also submitted
a design. His design showed Liberty as also being too heavy,
but she was also dumpy looking and had a fat neck. Morgan’s
reverse showed an eagle that looked unnatural. Barber’s
seemed more real. In any case, it was Morgan’s designs
that were selected for the dollar. It is an irony that the
first Morgan dollar was presented to Rutherford B. Hayes,
the president who had vetoed the authorizing act.
When first discovered, gold
and silver found in Nevada had to be shipped over the Sierra
Nevada Mountains to the branch mint in San Francisco. This
trip was dangerous and expensive. The Nevada mine owners asked
Congress to establish a branch of the mint in their state,
and legislation was enacted in 1863. Carson City was chosen
as the location for the mint facility because it was near
some of the major mining sites.
The majority of Morgan
Dollar coins can be found in mint state because they were
saved in vaults that contained $1,000 bags. However, there
are a number of rarities in the series. The rarest is the
1895 Proof only issue. Only 880 were struck and since it is
a Proof only issue, all date collectors must acquire one to
have a complete set. Others include the 1893-S, mintage 100,000;
the 1889-CC, mintage 350,000; the 1893-CC, mintage 677,000;
and the 1894, mintage 110,000. While these coins are rare
because of low mintages, there are many that are condition
rarities and are scarce or rare in higher mint state grades.
Included in this list and valued at over $100,000 in MS65
are the 1884-S, mintage 3,200,000; 1886-O, mintage 10,710,000;
1892-S, mintage 1,200,000; 1893-O, mintage, 300,000; 1895-O,
mintage 450,000; 1896-O, mintage 4,900,000; and 1901, mintage
6,962,000. In addition over forty Morgan Dollar varieties,
known as VAM’s for Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis,
authors of the authoritative text on die varieties, are listed
in the “Red Book.” Proof-like and Deep Mirror
Proof-like Morgan Dollars are also valued by collectors. A
Proof-like piece has a satiny luster with contrast and a Deep
Proof-like or Deep Mirror Proof-like has a mirror-like surface.
The Mint occasionally deliberately made proof-like coins as
presentation pieces from brilliantly polished dies. However,
sometimes proof-like coins were made merely as a result of
being among the first struck by new dies. Rarities valued
at over $100,000 in MS65 DMPL condition are the 1883-S, 1889-CC,
1892-S, 1893-CC, 1893-O, 1893-S, and 1895-O.
As the “King
of the Morgan Dollars,” the 1895
Proof Morgan silver dollar is the key coin in the series.
With an original mintage of 880, it is, of course, rare in
all conditions. It is estimated that only about 700 or so
exist today. Since the Morgan
dollar series is collected by hundreds of thousands of
people, this is the coin that every collector must have to
complete a full set. Although the 1895 Proof Morgan is no
rarer than other proof silver dollars in the series, it is
always under the most intense demand from date collectors.
Since the 1895 is so difficult to obtain, some collectors
limit their collections to business strikes only so they can
complete their sets.
Interestingly enough, the
Mint actually reported a coinage of 12,000 business strikes
for this date. However, none have been found to date. Researchers
theorize that the 12,000 coins were merely a ledger entry
at the end of the 1894-95 fiscal year that ended in June 1895.
Maybe in June of 1895, business strikes of the previous year
were delivered. Another theory is that the 12,000 existed
and were melted under the terms of the Pittman Act of 1918.
Because the 1895 is so rare,
authentication is mandatory. Many so called 1895 dollars are
alterations of the 1895-O or the 1895-S that have had the
mintmark removed. Also 1885 Philadelphia’s have been
altered by changing the second 8 to a 9. (All USRCI coins
are authenticated by one of the major grading services.)
Morgan Silver Dollar is the business strike key to the
series of its low mintage. Also, as a result of the Pittman
Act of 1918, it was heavily melted. In addition there was
a lack of numismatic care because in the early days, collectors
tended to disregard mintmarks and collected coins by date.